EUGENE (18-Jul) — Ethiopia’s Gotytom Gebreslase made it a gold medal sweep for her country’s marathon squad here this morning, winning the 18th World Athletics Championships Women’s Marathon in a championships record 2:18:11.
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But unlike her teammate Tamirat Tola, who yesterday ran away with the win, Gebreslase had to fight off Kenya’s Judith Jeptum Korir all the way past the 40-kilometer mark before securing victory. Her margin at the finish was nine seconds over Korir –who ran a personal best 2:18:20– but nearly all of that was gained in just the final 1500 meters.
“We planned to do what they do yesterday, and I’ve been motivated by the victory of Tola,” Gebreslase said through a translator. When a reporter pointed out that hers was the first victory at a World Athletics Championships Marathon by an Ethiopian women since Mare Dibaba in 2015 she added: “That just tells us if you work harder you will be rewarded.”
Today was the first time in the history of both the World Athletics Championships or Olympic Games where Ethiopians have swept the top spots in the marathon, a feat that Kenyan teams have managed four times. Both Tola and Gebreslase won USD 70,000 in prize money and undisclosed bonuses from the kit sponsors, adidas and Nike, respectively.
The bronze medal went to Israel’s Lonah Chemtai Salpeter in 2:20:18. The 33 year-old athlete, who switched her citizenship from Kenya to Israel through marriage in 2016, was definitely a medal contender, coming into the race with multiple marathon victories and a 2:17:45 personal best. Hers was the first-ever World Athletics Championships or Olympic Games marathon medal for Israel.
Today’s race, run under clear skies and in even cooler conditions than the men’s contest yesterday, started out fast right from the gun. Reigning world champion Ruth Chepngetich of Kenya went right to the front and took the leaders through the 3-K mark in 9:44, on pace for a sub-2:17 finish time. She pushed even harder over the next two kilometers, and hit the 5-K mark in 16:10, on pace for a 2:16:26 finish. The lead pack of eight featured all three Kenyans (Chepngetich, Korir and Angela Tanui), all three Ethiopians (Gebreslase, Ashete Bekere and Ababel Yeshaneh), Salpeter, and Eritrean Nazret Weldu. American Keira D’Amato was just four seconds back running on her own.
Twenty-two seconds behind the leaders, a chase pack of six had formed including two Americans, Sara Hall and Emma Bates, Britain’s Jess Piasecki, Uganda’s Immaculate Chemutai, and Mexico’s Risper Gesabwa and Citlali Moscote. Hall realized quickly that the pace at the front was simply too fast, at least at this early stage of the race. She was comfortable where she was.
“I really drew on my experience from the London Marathon where, you know, I went out with the leaders, but then could tell when it was, like, too fast,” Hall told reporters. She continued: “So, I was checking our splits and we were running plenty fast out there. I didn’t want to run faster than that.”
The lead pack of eight stayed together through 10-K (32:39) and 15-K (49:29) and the pace remained strong, but tapered down just a bit. The chase pack was just 22 seconds back and it looked like the race could come back together.
Then, without warning, Chepngetich stopped running just before the 18-K mark. She paused for a moment, then scooted into the brush on the left side of the course, ostensibly to relieve herself. She never returned to race and her title defense was over.
Seeing what happened to Chepngetich, the other contender saw an opening. Tanui, Korir, Gebreslase and Yeshaneh spurted ahead and ran the 19th kilometer in a blistering 3:05. Bekere, Weldu and Salpeter thought that was too hot and held their previous pace. Salpeter said it wasn’t a difficult decision.
“No it wasn’t difficult because I knew I had to be patient, otherwise I will lose,” Salpeter told Race Results Weekly.
Yeshaneh was the leader at halfway in a swift 1:08:49 with Korir and Gebreslase right with her. Tanui was four seconds back and would fade in the second half to finish sixth in 2:22:15. That threesome would hold together until the 27th kilometer when Korir dropped a 3:01 split and and that was too hot for Yeshaneh. Sadly, she would drop out just past the 35-K mark.
From 27 to 40-K Korir and Gebreslase ran together kilometer after kilometer. The Ethiopian mostly ran behind and off of the right shoulder of Korir who was clearly annoyed that her rival was making contact with her and not truly sharing the lead. She spoke to her several times and could be seen pointing at her to move away.
“It was not easy,” Korir told Race Results Weekly. “I was pushed by the Ethiopian, Gebreslase.”
The stalemate was finally broken in the 41st kilometer when Gebreslase surged away and Korir could not cover her move. The Ethiopian said she had been planning to move at that point all along.
“My target was to come out from 40 kilometers,” she said. “I know I have the speed and I’m sure I can beat her.”
Meanwhile, Salpeter was locked in a two-way battle for bronze with Weldu. The pair were together through 39-K, but Salpeter was able to pull away finally and finished a clear third in 2:20:18. Weldu got fourth in a national record 2:20:29.
“I’m proud to represent my country,” Salpeter said after spending a few minutes in the recovery area where team personnel removed her racing shoes for her. She added: “I’m really, really excited.”
Running a smart race, Hall left the comfort of her chase group and moved from ninth place at halfway to fifth at the finish in 2:22:10. She was delighted with her performance, especially having her four daughters cheer for her from the stands.
“It was fun,” said Hall. “I was able to give them high fives. I had a lot of fun out there. I think that this was, like, the most fun I’ve ever had in a marathon.”
Bates finished seventh in a personal best 2:23:18, and D’Amato –who was only added to the team on July 5, and had to make do with a very short training cycle– got eighth in 2:23:34. It was the first time in World Athletics Championships history that three USA women finished in the top-10.
“I definitely was humbled by this,” said D’Amato. “I think the short marathon build is not the way to go. I really think that I could have used another, like, month or two to build up with the long runs. I think that last lap when it was time to dig just had a really hard time locking-in and digging.”
Only 40 women started the race, the smallest number since 1993, and there were only 32 finishers.